US EPA - Environmental Protection Agency

EPA report on waste from cruise ships

Cruise ships operate in every ocean worldwide, often in pristine coastal waters and sensitive marine ecosystems. Cruise ship operators provide amenities to their passengers that are similar to those of luxury resort hotels, including pools, hair salons, restaurants, and dry cleaners. As a result, cruise ships have the potential to generate wastes similar in volume and character to those generated by hotels.

The cruise industry is one of world’s fastest growing tourism sectors, with the number of cruise ship passengers growing nearly twice as fast as any other travel sector over the last 10 years (CELB, 2003). In addition, average ship size has been increasing at the rate of roughly 90 feet every five years over the past two decades (Bell, 2007). As the cruise industry continues to expand, there is an increasing concern about the impacts cruise ships may have on water quality.

In March 2000, an environmental advocacy group called the Bluewater Network, representing 53 environmental organizations, submitted a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting that EPA identify and take regulatory action on measures to address pollution by cruise ships. Specifically, the petition requested an in-depth assessment of the volumes and characteristics of cruise ship waste streams; analysis of their potential impact on water quality, the marine environment, and human health; examination of existing federal regulations governing cruise ship waste streams; and formulation of recommendations on how to better control and regulate these waste streams. The petition also included specific requests related to sewage, graywater, oily bilge water, solid wastes, and hazardous wastes, as well as monitoring, record-keeping, and reporting. In addition, the petition requested that EPA prepare a report of the requested assessment.

This Draft Cruise Ship Discharge Assessment Report (Draft Report) responds in part to the petition from Bluewater Network. The Draft Report examines five primary cruise ship waste streams—sewage, graywater, oily bilge water, solid waste, and hazardous waste. For each waste stream, the Draft Report discusses (1) what the waste stream is and how much is generated; (2) what laws apply to the waste stream; (3) how the waste stream is managed; (4) potential environmental impacts of the waste stream; and (5) actions by the federal government to address the waste stream.
The most significant new analysis provided in this Draft Report relates to the generation and treatment of sewage and graywater onboard cruise ships. Pursuant to federal legislation entitled “Certain Alaskan Cruise Ship Operations” (33 U.S.C. 1901 Note), EPA has carried out a multiyear project to determine whether revised or additional standards for sewage and graywater discharges from large cruise ships operating in Alaska are warranted under that legislation. Much of the information and data collected for the Alaska effort are summarized in this Draft Report.

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